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Fear of Giving Birth is Real and on the Rise

fear of giving birth

Phobias often begin in childhood.

Although our bodies were built to do it and it’s one of the most natural things in the world, the thought of giving birth is a frightening proposition for some women.  In fact, the fear of giving birth is common enough to have a name:  Tocophobia.

Like any other phobia, tocophobia can can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy.  But many women who are truly afraid to give birth don’t realize that they have a recognized anxiety disorder and that they are not alone.

A few years ago, actress Helen Mirren declared childbirth to be disgusting and something she knew from a young age that she would never, ever do.   She traces the beginnings of these feelings about childbirth to a sex-education film she watched in school as a young teen.  The “bloody and disgusting” film traumatized her so badly that to this day, she cannot look at anything to do with childbirth.  Needless to say, she never had kids.

According to a 2000 study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, Mirren’s early recognition of her aversion to childbirth isn’t uncommon.   Many women who suffer from this “harrowing condition” can trace their own feelings back to adolescence.

But others become fearful as they grow older and enter the childbearing years.  Erica Lyon, author of “The Big Birth Book” and consultant for New York City’s Tribeca Parenting, believes that the condition is more common in certain types of women.

I think it tends to be a woman with a type-A personality.  She may have a previous history of anxiety or depression or struggled with an eating disorder. We don’t understand the brain enough to know why.

According to the National Institutes of Health, phobias are a type of anxiety disorder in which the sufferer has an irrational fear of something that actually poses very little or no danger at all. Statistics show that about 8.7% of Americans over the age of 18 suffer from some type of phobia.  I myself suffer from ranidaphoba, which is a fear of frogs.

But while my phobia is relatively easy to live with, a woman afraid of giving birth can suffer greatly.  Her fear can impact her relationships, lead her to remain childless even though she may want children, and, in some cases, request an otherwise unnecessary Cesarean section.  Still others choose to adopt a child rather than face what they are convinced will be a traumatic and painful experience.

While there are no reliable statistics for the number of women who suffer from tocophobia in the U.S.,  British studies find that as many as one in six women are truly and deeply afraid to give birth.  What’s more, they believe that the number of women who suffer from this anxiety disorder is on the rise.

Are you – or someone you know – afraid of childbirth?

Image:  mikeisscrumptious/Flickr

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